American Apparel’s latest ad does what the controversial retailer does best: objectifying semi-naked women for the sake of pushing merchandise. Never mind that its “made in the U.S.A.,” fair-wage ethos is a noble one—any form of higher purpose is quickly subsumed by the company’s ’60s soft-porn schtick, particularly with its latest campaign, which features a topless Bangladeshi woman with the words “made in Bangladesh” branded across her chest. The model, a merchandiser named Maks who has been with American Apparel since 2010, touts a high-waist jean made by “23 skilled American workers in downtown Los Angeles, all of whom are paid a fair wage and have access to basic benefits such as healthcare.” The implicit message is that the 3.6 million workers who make up Bangladesh’s garment workforce, many of them young women like Maks, do not share that same luxury.
With next month marking the one-year anniversary of Rana Plaza collapse, which killed over 1,133 people and injured thousands more, it’s hard to see the image as anything other than a tragedy-jacking stunt that literally commoditizes another human being.
Promoting the dangerous conditions that Bangladesh workers face on a daily basis is one thing; using titillation as a delivery system is quite another. If anything, it’s tacky.
Next month marks the one-year anniversary of Rana Plaza collapse, which killed over 1,133 people and injured thousands more.
Elle writer Tanwi Nandini Islam, who also hails from Bangladesh, calls the sexualizing of a phrase typically used to label clothes “exploitative.”
“Maks is as made in America as American Apparel,” Islam writes. “Her unabashed nudity is a tacit reminder—this is what American Apparel looks like. This is what our fantasy of what made in Bangladesh looks like. Not a poor, underpaid, overworked young woman making you a $5 shirt for 30 cents an hour. This ad has little to do with the woman in front of us, and everything to do with the Bangladeshi female garment worker who remains invisible.”
Below, the original text that accompanied the ad:
She is a merchandiser who has been with American Apparel since 2010. Born in Dhaka, the capitol of Bangladesh, Maks vividly remembers attending mosque as a child alongside her conservative Muslim parents. At age four, her family made a life-changing move to Marina Del Rey, California. Although she suddenly found herself a world away from Dhaka, she continued following her parent’s religious traditions and sustained her Islamic faith throughout her childhood. Upon entering high school, Maks began to feel the need to forge her own identity and ultimately distanced herself from Islamic traditions. A woman continuously in search of new creative outlets, Maks unreservedly embraced this photo shoot.
She has found some elements of Southern California culture to be immediately appealing, but is striving to explore what lies beyond the city’s superficial pleasures. She doesn’t feel the need to identify herself as an American or a Bengali and is not content to fit her life into anyone else’s conventional narrative. That’s what makes her essential to the mosaic that is Los Angeles, and unequivocally, a distinct figure in the ever-expanding American Apparel family. Maks was photographed in the High Waist Jean, a garment manufactured by 23 skilled American workers in Downtown Los Angeles, all of whom are paid a fair wage and have access to basic benefits such as healthcare.